February 21, 2011

Frozen Ass 50km - kicking off the Ultra season

So far I think I have been pretty lucky; today was my 2nd year of running Gord's Running Store Frozen Ass 50km in Calgary and both years the temperature has started out around minus 10 and crept up to just below zero - positively balmy for Alberta at this time of year!

I really love this event, it's so well organised, great sponsors, low entry fee and low-key atmosphere. Although big races are fun it's great also to have races like this that have less frills, less fanfare and are just about getting some miles in with some company.

I signed up only few weeks before once I knew I was pretty much over injury and could likely tackle the distance, but went in with a 'training race' head on. With Banff getting a tonne of snow this winter outdoor running has been challenging so I wanted to do Frozen Ass just to get training in.

However Calgary has received more than it's fair share of snow so far this winter too and as we set out along the bikepath at the edge of the canal it was clear that there would be very few sightings of tarmac today. The course is simple to the extreme - basically 25km straight out to an aid station, turn around and run back. It was kind of funny to watch us all at the start - whichever path through the snow you chose it looked like the runner ahead had a better path so we were zig-zagging from one side of the path to the other in search of the best route. This went on for the first few km and then I think we all realised that it was best just to pick a line and go for it. A couple of detours led us down onto the ice-covered canal and after one everyone just decided to stay down on the canal where footing was better than up on the snow and wind blown bike path. So for a good few kms we ran along the frozen surface with nothing but snowy canal and bluebird blue sky in sight, it was so so pretty. I had put my yak-trax in my drop bag at the turn around but was glad not to use them. I find yak-trax great if the trail is 100% snow covered but there were a few breaks where we hit tarmac which is not good to run in yak-trax and I was getting great traction with my Montrail Rockridges.

With just over 100 runners in the event there were a few guys within eyesight and it was good to strike up some conversation as we ploughed on towards Chestermere Lake. A few kms before the turn around we all popped back up onto the bike path, this section of which was totally bare. Ahhhhhhhh...it was so nice to be able to pick up the pace a little and cruise into the aid station. Angela, a Calgary runner I know, was there volunteering and helped me with my drop bag (thank you Angela!) and I took on some coke at the aid station. Gord pretty much leaves the stocking of the aid stations to the volunteers so each have their own speciality and at this one I was glad to have the excuse 'I'm vegetarian' when I turned down a peanut butter and bacon tortilla (though other racers later reported that they were actually really good!).

Turning around at 25km I was just over the 2hr mark. I hoped I could pick it up a little to squeeze under 4hrs for the finish, my time from last year was 3:47 but I knew I'd not got quite as many long runs in this year and didn't want to race this event hard, it was just about getting some miles in.

The lead guy was way ahead but I felt confident I could catch some other men and this became my target for the return trip. It was also great to have the company of runners still on the outward direction as we all cheered each other along. I know lots of people don't like out and back routes, and although they are not always the most exciting I tend to find that the return trip goes by pretty quickly as you are already familiar with all the little twists and turns and landmarks.

All was going well and I passed a few guys and steadily gaining on Carl, a Calgary-Brit who I had met at pretty much exactly the same point last year. I was glad to have Carl to follow on the one section that detours off the bike path for a few hundred metres. With only 8km to go it wasn't essential that I stopped at the aid station but I decided to as it was a usual dry Alberta day and I knew keeping fluids up would help for the final stretch. So I stopped momentarily at the station only to see a freight train approching, the bar come down, Carl nip underneath it and me be left waiting on the other side. Aaargh!!!! Oh well, I waited out the few minutes, used the time to take on some more Clif drink and then set out again once the bar was up - trying once again to regain all the distance I had gained on Carl and then lost with the train passing!

The last few kms were a steady push and with about 5km to go I passed Carl and kept moving. Although I wasn't overly bothered if he beat me I also decided I'd prefer to come 2nd overall - which I would if I could stay ahead of him. The last few kms were particularly icy packed snow so it was by no means a sprint finish but I managed to keep up my pace to squeeze in under 4hrs - 3:58, 2nd overall and first female.

Massive congrats to Ian who ran 3:39 - a pretty darn fast time for the conditions underfoot and the time of year.

And a big thanks to Gord and all the vollies - once again a great event and the only event where I think I have ever eaten my race entry in Dominos pizza at the post-race buffet :)


February 16, 2011

Pacific Road Runners 'First Half' Half Marathon

Ok, I am going to have to change the name of this blog, 'Trail Running Tales' is getting stretched a little thin when I am posting about road half marathons. I would by and large call myself a trail ultra runner, but why then did I find myself at the start line of a road half marathon this past weekend? Many reasons! An excuse for a trip back to Vancouver, the race is (in my humble opinion) the best half marathon in Vancouver, I hadn't run a proper half for 3yrs, and importantly ... leg speed. I have seen many road runners cross over to trail running and after a few months wonder why they are getting slower. My answer would be that on moving to the trails runners can get slower as they hike the hills, move over technical terrain and often start running longer distances. So one reason I like to still run roads and throw in some short races is I think it can help maintain all out leg speed which is invaluable even in trail ultras.

Race day was perfect - the torrential rain of the day prior stopped entirely, it was a mild 7 degrees and very little wind. After the usual pre-race brekkie of a cup of tea, a bagel and a banana I headed down to the race start at the Roundhouse Community Centre in Yaletown. I got there about an hour before the race but already there were lots of familiar faces milling around especially in the form of PRR club members who volunteer and organise the entire race. Bag check done, washroom visit - check, and I headed outside about 20min before the race to escape the crowds (about 2000 runners compete in the race).

I had been lucky enough to get an elite entry so was near the front of the race start next to friends Johnnie A and Dave Papineau. Soon we were off and I was careful to monitor my speed to try keep a 3:47/km (or 6:06/ mile) to go for a sub 1h20min finish. It was going to be a careful balance as I was not really sure of what tiem I was capable of running but thought 1h20 seemed reasonable, despite being 3.5mins faster than my PB. I checked my pace with my garmin as I knew that this being a shorter race than I was used to I had no time to lose a few seconds here or there but also if I went too fast I would fry my legs too soon.
I was a little daunted to be side by side with Kristina Rody who is a road speedster, but felt ok that I was just behind Dave and Johnnie. Kristina said something that implied that she was not on top form so I felt a little more confident to run with her and soon move a little ahead. The first mile was a little fast but everyone questioned if the marker was spot on or a little short, plus with their being a gradual downhill in the first mile I was not too concerned. Another female who I didn't recognise pulled slightly ahead but I let her go, maintained my pace, and hoped to catch her later.

It was great to pass each aid station as I knew PRRers on each one so was buoyed along by their cheers and encouragement. As I passed English Bay bathhouses and climbed a slight up hill I saw John Hill - VFAC coach - another club I used to belong to in Vancouver. I shouted out to John cheerily, 'I have no idea what I am doing here' - meaning was my pace right? could I maintain this? but John called out that I looked relax and at this early stage (probably about 4 miles) I certainly felt comfortable. As we moved onto the Stanley Park seawall I looked up to absorb the harbour views and ocean air that I miss so much, but as this caused me to swerve a little too close to the edge fo the seawall, I pulled my focus back to the race - I didn't want to go for an impromptu swim in the ocean!

One of the great things about the seawall is despite twists and turns you can see quite a long way ahead. My pace seemed steady but I was gradually passing a few men and not being passed by anyone. At the start I had not been sure what ladies had gone out ahead of me, I thought that I was in 3rd place but wasn't sure until I could see the lead female bike a ways ahead with Lisa Harvey (Calgary) in the lead. Ok, she was ahead and I could see the other woman too but the distance was not so far so I knew I could still hopefully move up in terms of position. As I passed half way John called out my finishing time of 1:20:30 (I think) based on the pace I was at, I took note of this but not seriously - I was moving at a pace that felt right and didn't want to pick it up too soon.

As we came around the full circle of the seawall I moved from 3rd to 2nd and I was gaining on the lead bike. But then to my dismay I saw a baby pink toque ahead - who was that?! As I gained on the pink toque I began to study the very toned legs more closely - and as I passed I called out to Sparky, 'geez - I thought you were a girl for a good few minutes there!' Now I was close enough to Lisa Harvey to know for sure that I was in 2nd. I passed Dave Stephens (gulp, he's fast!) and Johnnie A (he can still get sub 1h20 I thought) and was now right behind Lisa. My friend Chloe was lead female bike; the week before the race she had emailed me to tell me that and to jokingly ask 'So what pace do you want to go at?'! I had told her - Ellie might win races, but no road half marathons :) I could now see Chloe checking over her shoulder with a grin on her pace like it was 'told you so!'. I crept past Lisa and took the lead. There are many runners I am not phased to pass but Lisa, although in her mid-40s, is a former Olympian and had far more road and race experience than I even will. She looked tired as I passed her (I later found out she was fighting a bug) but even so - I now knew I just had to push the final 3 miles to the finish as who knew what Lisa would pull out of the bag, or indeed what other females might be gaining on me.

I trailed along behind Chloe, now at 10 miles I just hoped I could cling on for the final 3.1. I lack experience to know what pace I could hold but I so didn't want to lose the lead now I had taken it. I might have imagined it but I thought I saw Chloe on her radio, and I figured that if she was radio-ing the finish line to tell them that I was in the lead There was no way I could let my PRRers down now! I came past the English Bay aid station again and glimpsed some friends, but now it was head down and push the pace. With one final haul up a short hill under the Granville Street bridge and I was on the home, and slightly downhill, stretch. Normally I never look back during a race but in that final section I stole a few backwards glimpses to check that no females were on my heels. Brian and Dave were right ahead of me but there was no chance I was going to catch them - and at this moment in time that didn't concern me. I just wanted the win and it was fantastic to cross the line with so many friends there. 1:18:47 - 1st place female! PB by 4m46secs!

I am so happy with my race. Having started the year injured I have worked hard to get over injury and line up at the First Half in decent shape. I knew a PB was on the cards but not to the extent of running 1:18 something! I'll take the win and enjoy it, even though I know it is a slow winning time for the race and that lots of females did not make the start line for one reason or another. A great way to start off the racing season...and racing season is now coming thick and fast - Frozen Ass 50km next up - on Monday!
And on a final note - a big shout out to all of PRR for once again organising a superb race!